Readings for Sunday, February 19 / 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 | Psalm 103 | 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 | Matthew 5:38-48
In the Holy Scriptures, the Lord God speaks to us, and the words of Jesus tell us that where a man's treasure is there also his heart will be. We know that anyone who has ever fallen in love, maybe someone who has ever born a child, and been able to hold that child - maybe a grandchild in their arms for the first time - the know the great joy the have in the other person. They don't have to consciously think about the other person, they just naturally do. One doesn't forget their child, one doesn't forget their beloved. And through the course of the day, they certainly come to mind in pleasant thoughts, and the desire or longing to be able to see them once again. We could say a similar thing of lesser greatness - simply maybe a new hobby, a new found joy, or a new toy. It brings us joy and a desire to be able to see it, enjoy it once again, take part in it once more when we are separated from it. Indeed those things are good and holy - our activities and treasures of this earth, but the most important about us Christians is that we are not people whose treasure is mainly on earth, but our treasure is in heaven. Our treasure is not just a thing, it's a person, and it's the Lord God Himself. The Lord God who comes to us and desires to be with us. Who loves us so much, He even took on our flesh, so we have a great gift in our God. Where man's treasure is, so also his heart will be.
As such, following the same analogy, there is this reality of the Lord, as we go through the course of our day, it should be such that shouldn't have to consciously think of God if He surely is our treasure. Rather, He should simply come to mind naturally, organically, through the course of our day and the longing to see Him once more, to be with Him, united with Him in a moment of intimacy. That intimacy is what we call prayer.
We can speak a thousand things on the topic of prayer. Indeed we can fill this chapel ten times over with the number of books that have been printed on the topic of what is prayer, how to do prayer, methods of prayer, spiritualities and so forth. While we can complicate it in so many ways, prayer is actually very simple, and the ones who describe it most simply and beautifully and most directly are the saints of God in the Church. The saints have described prayer as a simple conversation with the Lord. They have described it also as union with our God. St. John Vianney, one of my favorite quotes he references, "Our time of prayer is an overflow of paradise and a foretaste of heaven." A brief moment where we can be united to our God. Ultimately, it's a meeting place of the Bride and the Bridegroom. The Bride, the Church, each individual member comes to the Bridegroom of God to be united and look forward to the heavenly marriage feast that awaits us.
All of these simply speak to an intimacy - to be willing to open our hearts to the Lord in His generosity in opening His to us. The fact that we can pray should bring us to our knees immediately because the God of creation, the God who made all things, who gave every blessing that we have, it would be enough just to know that He exists, it would be enough to know things about Him. But He goes even farther by letting Himself be known in a personal relationship. heart speaking to heart in a sense. We don't deserve it by any means, but our Lord gives it, and what a blessing.
St. Augustine described the relationship with God, this time of prayer as a stretching of our hearts. He said in one of his homilies, "Our hearts are too small. They must be stretched." Can you imagine if God came to us one day and we were carrying a sack. And the Lord God said, "I have something I need to give to you." Immediately we would do everything in our power to make sure we can receive what God desires to give. We would take our sack and empty it of the earthly wears we have, whatever the earthly things we posses, and we would take our sack and stretch it as much as possible so it can receive as much as possible, in hopes of receiving what God desires to give. And what God desires to give is Himself - the infinite God, and so our hearts must be infinitely stretched. We must be a people of prayer, continually having recourse to our God. Certainly in the course of our day, calling to mind our Lord, lifting up what they call "the arrows of holiness," the short, little, pious prayers that we pray that pierce the heavens and pierce the heart of God with love, an arrow of love. We must also be a people who spend time in prayer, daily. To make that an absolute necessity. No one among us can go without food, or drink or air, and even less so can we go without God in prayer. So we must prayer. To be able to have the life of God within us.
While we can complicate again in so many ways, it ultimately comes down to three central points, three essential aspects of prayer.
The first essential aspect of prayer is faith. We must trust in our God. It can be a temptation sometimes to treat God as if He is a magician or a genie, where we go up and say the right prayer, do the right thing, and ta-dah we get what we want. Thankfully God is not like that because every single one of us would be spoiled brats. And beyond that, sometimes your prayer and my prayer might conflict. I would love the church never to get about 55 degrees, some of y'all would hate that. Whose prayer wins? Good question. Theological debate ensues. It's the reality that our God is a Good Father. He doesn't just give us whatever we want, He gives us what is right, true, good and holy. He is a Father who cares for us. The Lord Jesus says to us, "What father among you when his son asks for a fish, would hand him a snake instead?" No one. And if your earthly father is that good, how much more your heavenly Father. And so, we approach our Lord with trust. We approach God our Father with the recognition that even though sometimes our prayers are not answered as we would like, ti seems that there is silence on the other end, we must trust and have faith that our God hears us, and He walks with us. Most importantly, He loves us and will provide for us.
The second aspect of a life of prayer is honesty. We must be honest with our Lord in prayer. Every single one of us has that place in our house that we know we can store junk. When you got things laying around the house, and you have someone who calls and asks if they can come over real quick you say yeah give me five minutes. And we take those five minutes, we run around the house like a crazy person, grab everything that's a mess, and we throw it into that closet or room and we shove the door. My house looks great, doesn't it? Just don't go in that room, right there. That room is a tornado. We do it with God to in our prayer. We go to prayer, and as we are going to the chapel, Church or Mass, wherever we are going to encounter our Lord in prayer - We think we have to stuff all that bad stuff, the frustrations on my heart, maybe there is anger, suffering, sadness, depression .. I'm going to put those in that room or closet really quick and I'm going to go to prayer and say, Lord look how great my house is. Everything is nice and orderly. We go kneel in prayer and we place our hands in a very pious little angel pose - "Lord thank you for all the wonderful blessings. Life is so amazing. Thank you. Glory be to the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit ..." While inside in the depth of our hearts in that trashy room, we are screaming for God. Screaming. We must be honest in prayer. Because if we go before God in prayer and we give Him what we think He wants, what we think He wants, we are not praying We are lying. The Lord God put the things in our hearts there for a purpose. If there is sadness in our heart, it's for a reason. It's because our heart longs for something or it needs something, God desires to give it to us, He desires to respond. If there is suffering in our heart, anger, frustration, confusion, joy, exhilaration - all of these things - everything of the human heart, God put it there and He wants us to talk to Him about it. Whatever the emotion of the heart - if you are angry, be angry with God. There is some things I've brought to the chapel and made sure no one was around and I spoke to God, and I'm pretty sure if anybody was there they would've blushed because that's where my heart was that day. We need honesty in our prayer with the Lord because if we are honest with God, it gives Him the opportunity to actually deal with the mess of our life, rather than trying to make it appear very nice.
The third piece is persistence. And this is the hardest part because it's easy for us to go and to trust initially, it's easy for us to go and to be honest with our Lord, but sometimes when things don't go as we desire or as we expect, as we think it should be, as prayer is supposed to be - it's easy for us to give up. We go, in the middle of our prayer, if God doesn't respond like we want, or if ti's quiet on the other end, we just stop. And so often we stop right on the threshold of when God is about to move. We are just about there where God wants to do something and can do something, and we shut the door. We must persist in prayer, day in and day out, every single day, without fail. It should become so much a part of our routine that if we don't have time for prayer, we should be hungry for it. None of us goes through the course of a whole day without eating or without realizing at some point that we are hungry. At some point, your stomach gurgles a bit to let you know that it needs something. It should be the same with our souls. To know that through the course of our day that if we don't spend time with our Lord, something in us should ache a bit to remind us to go to Him.
We have faith, honesty and perseverance. In the midst of all these things, we can do so many things in prayer. Again, tens of thousands of books we can have recourse to. But the most important thing, in the end, if we are struggling, we don't know what to do, if we don't know what to say, tell that to the Lord. When the disciples were struggling with their own prayer, they looked around and seeing the the disciples of John the Baptist, "Lord, John's teaching his disciples to pray. Teach us. What do we do? What do we say? How do we respond?" And He gave them a simple prayer: the Our Father. Not that we simply prayer the Our Father and be done with it, that's all we need to do. He gives us a model, a method of trust imploring each of these things to come before our Lord. Ultimately, if all else fails, if we have no idea of where we are going and what we are doing, there is one simply prayer you need to pray and then rest with the Lord. And that prayer is simply, "Lord, teach me how to pray."